Originally published July 30, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.
I have begun to lose my hair. It’s not as dramatic as it sounds.As opposed to hair loss, I think a more accurate description is that I’m experiencing extreme thinning.I’ve been dreading this for about two months.Most doctors tell their patients that the hair-loss phase begins around 12 weeks after weight-loss surgery. However, most people I’ve talked to say it sets in between the fourth and fifth month. As for how long it lasts — well, opinions vary on that as well. I’ve heard everything from three to six months.But knowing that it was coming did nothing to ease the shock of it happening.
At first I just noticed that a few hairs would stick in my hands after I ran my fingers through my hair. Then I noticed that my pillow was covered in strands. But the most troubling experience was after washing my hair in the bathroom sink one morning.I generally wash my hair in the shower. But on this day, after rinsing my hair, my fingers were tangled with it.I looked in the sink, and if not for the color, I would have thought I had just finished washing the cat there. My chestnut-colored hair was matted in the drain and covered the sink’s porcelain.I was taken aback, but I think I handled it pretty well. I didn’t cry or act weird. I just rinsed off my hands, grabbed a wad of toilet tissue and wiped out the sink.I towel-dried my hair and took a long look in the mirror. No bald spots, no noticeable thin areas. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would have thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.I credit preparation and perspective for helping me not to overreact to the situation. The preoperative classes I took helped prepare me for the inevitability of losing my hair. Some people naturally lose hair after major surgery. The trauma to the system is just too much for the fragile hair follicles.But with gastric-bypass patients, the body has to deal with a drastic reduction in nutrients, as well as massive weight loss — and those combine to make the follicles freak out and release hair.My awesome hair stylist helped me choose a short haircut that I love so that the thinning and regrowth would be less noticeable. I didn’t want to be one of those women with inch-long sprouts poking through shoulder-length hair.But perspective actually came after I noticed the hair loss.I was eating lunch with a friend and told her about this new development. She was concerned and asked how I was handling it. I told her that I was trying to keep a good attitude.To prove it, I said, “Wanna see something cool?” as I ran my fingers through my hair to show her all the loose strands that came out.“ Please don’t ever do that again,” she pleaded with a shudder. “It reminds me of my mom when she had chemo.”For a second, I stopped. Her mother was my godmother.I remember her bouts with cancer from the time we were in junior high until college. I remember seeing my godmother with no eyebrows and a wig. I remember seeing her with her natural hair again when we thought the cancer was gone. And I remember coming home on break to notice she was wearing a wig again.And that put me in my place. What I’m experiencing is insignificant compared to that.Yes, my hair is thinning. Yes, it’s disturbing. But I know it’s not a permanent affliction. I’ve been taking my vitamins and consuming protein so that my body has what it needs to regrow hair when the time is right. Until then, I will continue to sport the stylish haircut, and I’ll keep a lint brush handy to lift the strays from my clothing before leaving the house.And most people won’t even have a clue.